Cybersecurity Career Track
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As one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country, cybersecurity professionals have excellent job prospects. With their specialized skill set, they can work in a variety of technical security-related positions, many of which offer strong earning potential. In this guide, we explore what cybersecurity careers entail and explain the skills needed to excel in the field.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Nearly every organization that relies on computer systems to operate is vulnerable to cyberattacks and network security threats. These attacks may be in the form of computer viruses, spyware, and phishing, all of which can cause serious problems if left undetected. This is why cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important across many different industries, including the tech industry.
Cybersecurity refers to the practice of protecting computer systems, networks, and data from attack. Cyberattacks on businesses and organizations usually attempt to access and/or destroy sensitive information, such as financial data and customer information. To help combat these threats, companies hire cybersecurity professionals. Cybersecurity professionals may also work to prevent attacks on government agencies and political organizations.
What Do Cybersecurity Professionals Do?
For many cybersecurity professionals, their main focus is to prevent attacks and protect sensitive company data from being compromised. Rather than reacting once an attack has been made, cybersecurity experts try to identify and fix security weaknesses before they are exploited. These issues may include vulnerabilities in company networks, firewalls, authentication, permissions levels, remote access, and encryption.
Typical tasks for cybersecurity experts include installing new firewalls, monitoring suspicious network activity, and creating disaster recovery plans in the event of a cyberattack. Depending on the industry in which they work, cybersecurity professionals may also be responsible for protecting consumer data, such as credit card and social security numbers.
Cybersecurity Career Outlook
Job prospects for cybersecurity experts are extremely encouraging, as the supply of qualified professionals has yet to meet the workforce demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of cybersecurity experts — or information security analysts — is projected to grow 31% from 2019-2029, making it one of the fastest-growing U.S. occupations.
This high demand is primarily driven by a surge in the frequency of cyberattacks, and many experts warn the worst has yet come. Considering the rapid growth in demand and shortage of qualified professionals, this is an excellent time to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
Employment of cybersecurity experts — or information security analysts — is projected to grow 31% from 2019-2029.
The salary outlook between cybersecurity bootcamp graduates and cybersecurity professionals who possess a bachelor's degree differs slightly; however, both earn salaries well above the median income in the U.S. ($39,810). In addition, bootcamp graduates are qualified for many of the same positions as those who hold a bachelor's degree.
For reference, graduates of Evolve Academy — a popular bootcamp for cybersecurity — earn a median total compensation of $65,000. Additionally, as of August 2020, 94% of alumni who actively sought employment obtained a cybersecurity position within six months of graduating. Meanwhile, PayScale reports that professionals with a BS in cybersecurity earn a median annual salary of $70,210.
Cybersecurity Career Paths
Cybersecurity bootcamp graduates are often qualified for a variety of high-paying, tech-related positions. While graduates usually start out in an entry-level cybersecurity role, they may decide to pursue a specialized security role after gaining some field experience. Below are some examples of cybersecurity careers and related careers in information technology (IT).
Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts design and implement security solutions to safeguard an organization's computer networks and systems. These professionals often work in IT departments and security operations centers, where they monitor suspicious network activity, conduct penetration testing to assess system weaknesses, and implement security updates and software patches.
Information security analysts must continuously research the latest IT security trends to stay up to date on new threats and cyberattacks. While many people entering this occupation earn a bachelor's degree, cybersecurity bootcamps and certification can equip you with the skills needed for many entry-level positions. PayScale reports an average salary of $72,580 for these professionals.
Security Software Developer
Security software developers write code that protects computer systems and organizational data. Their daily tasks include building security-oriented software products, testing and implementing security programs, and mitigating cyberthreats. In addition to strong coding skills, aspiring security software developers should possess strong communication and collaboration skills as they often work closely with engineering and product development teams.
Most positions require a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, as well as previous experience working with code and software. Gaining certification or completing a bootcamp can also provide the training needed for employment in this occupation. According to PayScale, the average salary for a security software developer is $74,210.
Network Security Engineer
Network security engineers configure and maintain security-related hardware and software. In addition, these professionals work to safeguard an organization's network by monitoring and neutralizing malicious networking packets. As this is a multifaceted, highly technical job, an extensive background working in information security, networking, and computer engineering is often needed to become fully proficient in this occupation.
Employers usually expect at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, as well as some specialized certification, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional credential. Network security engineers earn an average salary of $86,150, according to PayScale.
Computer Forensics Analyst
Computer forensics analysts help investigate cybercrimes. While their main focus is to identify potential threats, they're also responsible for recovering sensitive information that may have been accessed or destroyed in an incident. Their daily tasks include safeguarding organizational data, identifying unauthorized activity, and writing reports on their findings.
In the event of a breach, computer forensics analysts often conduct interviews with suspects and prepare evidence for criminal trials. Most computer forensic analysts possess at least a bachelor's degree in computer science and have completed specialized training in digital forensics. PayScale reports that the average salary for a computer forensics analyst is $74,200.
Security architects apply their computer engineering knowledge to design, implement, and monitor computer and network security systems. As these experts are highly proficient in programming languages, they can also write code to strengthen their organization's computer systems. Their daily tasks vary by industry and role, but often include conducting risk analyses, developing security structures, and identifying weaknesses in existing systems.
Security architects typically need at least a bachelor's degree; however, some employers may require candidates to have a master's degree. Work experience and additional certifications can help security architects stand out in their field, as well. According to PayScale, security architects earn an average annual salary of $121,930.
Rather than using their skills with malicious intent, ethical hackers penetrate computer networks and systems for the sole purpose of evaluating an organization's level of security. As such, these professionals tend to be knowledgeable in many different areas, particularly topics related to programming, operating systems, and computer networks. Typical work duties for ethical hackers include conducting penetration testing and identifying system vulnerabilities. They also perform documentation and reporting procedures after completing their engagement.
While a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field is a good way to acquire foundational knowledge, you will likely need years of experience and additional training in cybersecurity to become fully proficient in ethical hacking. PayScale reports that ethical hackers earn an average salary of $79,100.
What Kind of Skills Do Cybersecurity Professionals Need?
Cybersecurity professionals need to have a wide variety of technical and soft skills to be successful in their career. Cybersecurity positions require vigilance and preparedness, as professionals employed in those roles need to be able to quickly identify threats and develop real-time solutions to neutralize them. These professionals must also possess a high degree of patience, as security incidents may not occur for long periods of time. Furthermore, being able to collaborate and work effectively in team settings is critical for a successful career in technology.
Problem-solving is a fundamental skill for virtually every career in computer science. To stay ahead of emerging technologies and intricate cyberthreats, cybersecurity professionals must find new ways to address and solve complex security issues. The ability to think critically and develop creative solutions is essential for this occupation.
As a cybersecurity professional, you will likely be working with colleagues from different departments and fields. As such, strong verbal and written communication skills are essential to coordinate team efforts and ensure work is aligned to meet the same objectives. In addition, many security problems require close collaboration with other IT colleagues.
Willingness to Learn
A desire to learn is critical for most careers in technology, especially in the rapidly evolving field of cybersecurity. You should always be on the lookout for new technologies that may impact digital security and emerging industry trends. While your employer may require continuing education, you should also take it upon yourself to keep current with best practices.
In a computer science field like cybersecurity, being technologically savvy is essential to carrying out daily tasks and responsibilities. Cybersecurity professionals' typical work duties include troubleshooting, monitoring network activity, and developing effective security solutions as quickly as possible. For these reasons, possessing strong technical skills is critical for obtaining employment and advancing in your career.
Attention to Detail
Cybersecurity requires a great deal of foresight and attention to detail, as you are responsible for both preventing cyberthreats and neutralizing them. It is critical to remain highly vigilant at all times to detect potential risks and vulnerabilities in an organization's computer systems and networks.
Why Pursue a Career in Cybersecurity?
There are many factors to consider before you decide to pursue a career in cybersecurity. While plentiful job opportunities and strong salary prospects make this occupation attractive, the challenging, fast-paced work environment isn't for everyone.
Technology is constantly evolving and hackers repeatedly find new ways to penetrate an organization's security systems. A commitment to continual learning is critical to stay on top of industry trends and ensure you are prepared for new challenges and cyberthreats.
As a cybersecurity professional, you will probably work closely with colleagues, and may be tasked with conveying technical information to non-technical users and employees. As such, you should have strong interpersonal and communication skills and be comfortable with the idea of working in team settings.
Where Can You Work as a Cybersecurity Professional?
The largest industry that employs cybersecurity professionals is the computer systems design industry and related services. Many small and medium-sized businesses have shifted their information storage to cloud services and require cybersecurity experts to help manage and keep their information secure.
In addition, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies commonly employ cybersecurity professionals to increase their security capabilities and protect consumer data. A similar need exists in the healthcare industry. As hospitals and clinics expand their use of digital medical records, they require cybersecurity experts to safeguard patients' data and privacy.
The largest industry that employs cybersecurity professionals is the computer systems design industry and related services.
In addition to industry, location also plays a role in the potential earnings and employment opportunities for cybersecurity professionals. While positions can be found across many different geographical locations, states like Virginia, Texas, and California offer the most job opportunities.
Earning potentials for cybersecurity experts are consistently high across the U.S. However, states with big tech cities like New York, California, and Texas offer average wages that are particularly lucrative. Keep in mind, though, that tese cities typically also have a very high cost of living.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cybersecurity a good career?
If you consider yourself a tech-savvy individual and enjoy problem-solving, a career in cybersecurity could be a great fit for you. In addition to high industry demand, cybersecurity professionals have strong earning potential, with the top 10% of workers earning more than $158,860 in 2019, according to the BLS.
Is there a demand for cybersecurity professionals?
Cybersecurity is one of the most in-demand occupations in the U.S. The BLS projects the employment of information security analysts to grow 31% from 2019-2029, which is much faster than the average projected growth across all occupations. This demand is further enhanced by a significant industry shortage of cybersecurity professionals.
Can I go into cybersecurity without a degree?
Minimum education requirements vary by employer, but completing a bootcamp and gaining certification are often enough to help you secure entry-level cybersecurity positions. Many cybersecurity bootcamps, like Fullstack Academy, work directly with leading technology employers and help place graduates into jobs.
Does cybersecurity pay well?
In short, yes. Cybersecurity professionals can earn six-figure salaries depending on their work experience and role. According to the BLS, information security analysts earned a median annual wage of $99,730 in 2019, and 90% of these workers earned more than $57,810.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college, where he received his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed.
Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.